Mar 17, 2010

Posted by in Oldschool Christianity | 7 Comments

Pink Robes May be Found Only in the Desert

A long time ago, a man named Anthony lived in Egypt, son of poor peasant. Working as a field laborer, he one day decided, after hearing some rather striking words of Christ in church, to retreat into the desert, forsaking even what few worldly attachments such a poor farmer could have. As Henri Nouwen describes in his excellent book The Way of the Heart, “During those years Anthony experienced a terrible trial. The shell of his superficial securities was cracked and the abyss of iniquity was opened to him.”

That description seems strangely familiar for that of a seventeen-hundred-year-old Egyptian peasant. But perhaps your name isn’t Anthony. Let’s read the description again: “During those years [insert your name here] experienced a terrible trial. The shell of his superficial securities was cracked and the abyss of iniquity was opened to him.” Why is it that people much more comfortable and secure (I love that even incredibly-poor Anthony has “securities”) and probably not living in the desert seem to have so much in common spiritually with someone like Anthony? Because spiritually we are exactly the same.

In Anthony’s day, just as in our own, the evils of the world, so constantly present, had taken a less plain form than they had during the persecutions of the past. Anthony was enslaved: not physically, and in no Marxist class-warfare sense either. He was enslaved to even what few things he had, because one does not have to be rich to be enslaved to wealth. Christ’s command is not: “You who are within a certain income bracket are destined for the kingdom of heaven, so get there.” Instead, it is always to give what one has, letting go…that letting go is the freedom from the slavery. Even the poor widow gave both her coppers, lest she be tied to even one of them in her desperation, a coin heavy enough to pull her down into hell.

So also with Anthony and ourselves. If we cannot give up our superficial securities (be they money or popularity or power, and note that I merely said “cannot” as opposed to “do not”, for God’s purposes are extensive), we cannot accept real securities.

And why are you anxious about clothing? (Matt 6:28-30)

Pink is the symbolic color for joy, often covering Christ and His beloved, and thrown about the altar of old-fashioned churches midway through Lent, midway through the time in the desert. When Christ spoke to Anthony that day, he was telling Anthony that the surest way to find a pink robe was to go out into the desert, where he could rid himself of his useless protection and face “the abyss of iniquity” with the power of God, emerging as the character we now know as St. Anthony of the Desert, or St. Anthony the Great, twenty years later, “the father of monks”. Whether or not we heed enough to even try to go into any kind of desert, people today tend to have plenty of experience with “cracking” and “the abyss of iniquities” without the power of God, clinging instead to whatever seems more comfortable. If we do this, we can never have joy. Pink robes can only be found in the desert, and we will only survive long enough to find them when we approach the desert with the water of God instead of wandering out with our pockets full of dry, leaden coppers.

Mark Gregory

A rogue, a Catholic, and an occasional writer for the Blackbird press, usually in "The Old Hat" column. Patroned by Pope Saint Gregory the Great, if you wanted to know.

  1. Excellent and convicting, Mark. Though the times when my own “abyss of iniquity” has yawned at my feet have been the most painful, I cherish them (for their penitential value) above most moments of sublime joy.

  2. Justin Mulwee says:

    In America, we don’t even realize how much crap we have. There are things we think we need because it’s normal to have them. If you actually acquired only things you needed, your possessions would look remarkably sparse indeed to the American eye.

    Of course, it’s not necessarily wrong to buy fun items for yourself… but you should be willing (even eager) to discard them. I’ve though a lot about “how much should I give away?” and have come to no definite conclusion. Except this: we should be WILLING to give everything away at the drop of a hat if we feel God asked it of us, and in any case with or without the voice of God we should err on the side of giving away more rather than less.

    I once heard a wise old man tell me that instead of giving 10% for tithe, I should start with 11%, and increase if I could or felt I should. “Don’t get stuck in a 10% rut,” he said. I like that because the point is not to go by whatever bare minimum you can find, but freely offer more.

  3. I need to get rid of this stupid Xbox.

  4. @Sky

    An excellent idea. I have been enslaved to video games for most of my life. It finally got so bad that I took a vow never to play again. I have since felt more liberated than you would ever think a restriction could make you feel, which I think is at the heart of the matter. Our liberties enslaved us; slavery to Christ is the highest of all possible freedoms. It is, after all, better to serve in Heaven than reign in Hell.

  5. It depends on the person, video games can be a vice for some, books for others. I have no problem playing games, I play maybe once a week and its not a problem. it depends on the person. Video games can be crack for some and simple catharsis for others. You just need to chiggity check yourself before you wiggity wreck yourself.

    Purge what needs to be purged.

  6. As I briefly alluded to, I don’t think that Christians have to just give everything away, because God does have a purpose for what we possess. But that purpose may often be to test us as to whether or not we can let go of the meaningless earthly things we put before him.

  7. Justin Mulwee says:

    And the trick here is to ACTUALLY be willing to give up everything. Which is hard to know. It’s easy to say “I would give up everything if God asked, but he’s not asking, so in the mean time I’ll just keep everything…” So, a challenge. If you are absolutely sure you have no undue attachment to your possessions, good for you. Consider giving something away since someone else might make good use of it. If you are in any way unsure, you need to give something away immediately.

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